The Vermont-resident tackled 576 summits and 1,001,820 feet of elevation gain in a quest to complete New Hampshire’s Grid challenge in a single year
by Doug Mayer, Trail Runner Magazine
2016 was a year of dramatic accomplishments on the trails: Jim Walmsey’s new Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim, Karl Meltzer besting Scott Jurek’s Appalachian Trail record and Megan Hick’s remarkable FKT on Colorado’s Nolan’s 14, to name a few.
But chances are you haven’t heard of one of the most impressive accomplishments that went down in the closing days of 2016. And that’s just fine with the record holder, Vermont ultrarunner and long-distance hiker Sue Johnston, 51, of Danville, Vermont.
Late in the afternoon of December 26, 2016, Johnston and her husband Chris Scott summited 4,000-foot-high Mount Isolation in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. It was her 12th time summiting the peak that year.
The longstanding challenge, called “The Grid,” involves summiting each of the Whites Mountains’ 48 4,000-foot peaks 12 times— once in every month. Only 70 people have completed The Grid. Most of those individuals worked a couple of decades to get there.
Johnston completed her first Grid—the third recorded Grid completion— in 2003, after 15 years of trail running and hiking in the White Mountains. This December she revisited the challenge, becoming the first person to tick off all 576 summits in a single calendar year. On the remote Mount Isolation in New Hampshire’s Dry River Wilderness, she and Scott quietly celebrated with a demi-bottle of champagne.
An “underappreciated legend”
It makes a certain amount of sense that Johnston would be the first person to complete this latest challenge. She’s been hiking and running long distances for 25 years. She won the competitive JFK 50-miler in 1999, and first female at the Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance run in 2000 and 2005. In 2001 she completed 66 of the 100 miles at Tennessee’s brutal Barkley Marathons, a women’s record that still stands today.